One May I was sitting at a table on a sidewalk in Rome having a family-style lunch with a friend and enjoying the beautiful weather when she ordered the grilled vegetable plate. I remember that I didn’t expect a whole lot from the dish. I also remember that I was really, really wrong.
That dish of simply-dressed vegetables held a revelation. A single bite of zucchini contained the flavor of every zucchini I’d previously eaten during the course of my life. The peppers and eggplant were similar flavor bombs, and, as the trip progressed and we had more opportunities to sample the local produce, I learned about the unique nature of Italian vegetable cultivars. Here was a country in which farmers grew vegetables solely to be delicious. When we came across a display of garden vegetable seeds, I stocked up.
These Romano pole beans are descended from that first purchase. Every year it is inevitable that I will miss a few here and there, and I’ve learned to just let them go until they reach maturity so I can harvest the seeds when the vines die and replant the next year. The flavor is still wonderful, reminding me of the pole beans we used to pick at my Grandmother’s farm when I was little. You have to go to farmers’ markets now to find anything like them. The beans in the grocery stores are typically bland, assuming you can even find pole beans, which can be great if you want to make a strongly-flavored dressing, but not if you want to taste beans.
Last year after the first hard freeze, the entire garden got a layer of compost and rotting straw for the winter. As the plots were planted this spring and summer, another round of compost and some leaf mulch left over from the yard landscaping went in to feed everything and retain some moisture.
This year I planted the beans in two plots that were used for tomatoes and potatoes last year. The cold and wet spring weather of the past few years has led to bacterial rot in a lot of my Solanaceous plants, particularly the tomatoes and peppers, so I’m trying to be very careful about rotating plant families between the plots. I waited two weeks between plantings, hoping to extend the pole bean season which tends to be fairly short. We’ll see how that works out.
Here you can see the bean-covered structures behind the kale and zucchini, one in front of and to the left of the other. As the plants grew I built the trellises using some slender but strong bamboo poles that my husband had left over from a project. It felt quite virtuous to recycle and use renewable resources, but they are not as sturdy as I had hoped, or, perhaps, bean vines are heavier than I realized. Even if I harvest very carefully with clippers, the entire structures sway precariously with the slightest bump. Fingers crossed we don’t have any strong winds.
I should also note that the dead bean vine in the middle of the front trellis is the victim of Benjamin Bunny. I don’t do anything to exclude the rabbits from the garden because they have been really good about leaving my plants alone in the past. This year someone got a taste for bean shoots, cut off my young plants in plot #2 at least twice, and took out a couple of longer vines from plot #1 by snipping them off close to the ground. The plants in the second plot branched really nicely and have recovered enough to be producing. That brown vine in plot #1 was not so lucky; it must have been cut off below a meristem. Fortunately, there are still lots of beans to be had.
Wash, snap, steam, butter, and coarse salt. The Italian vegetables do all the hard work for you, so you can prepare them very simply and have a wonderful meal.